How you experience watching Cho-in Theatre’s Macbeth likely depends on which date you attend. This one-person show is performed with a rotating cast of two – Lee Sang-hee on one day, then Hwang Min-hyung the next. The cast use the same script, there’s the same set design and both are directed by Park Cheong-euy (also directing Spray at Assembly Roxy this year). But this solo show relies so much on the phenomenal performance of the actor on stage, which also makes it feel like such a personalised experience for the audience watching, that after seeing one of the two on stage, it’s very difficult to imagine anyone else doing the same show.
On the evening I went, it was the turn of the brilliant Lee Sang-hee, who gave one of the most involved, intense performances of anything I’ve ever seen. Jumping between four small boxes, Macbeth gallops forth shouting ‘Giddy up! Giddy up!’, gets blown sideways by the howling Scottish wind and, later, screeches and cries at the apparent injustices of fate. This physically transformative performance is, in places, absolutely hilarious and, at others, strikingly powerful. The scene with the witches, where Macbeth coyly gasps and grovels at the prophecies is glorious, as is the introduction of Malcolm as a staggering old fool in a ‘crown’ that’s actually a baggy beret. But the best part is when Lee Sang-hee produces Lady Macbeth, a disembodied head of a puppet with huge wide eyes and a sparkly headband. If you see one thing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, please make it Lady Macbeth as presented here.
The over-riding idea of the piece is fairly simple: an actor takes on the role of Macbeth and, after becoming obsessed with the power-crazed role, refuses to let the wannabe ruler succumb to the fate Shakespeare wrote for him. On the one hand, Park Cheong-euy’s creation could be viewed as a reflection on acting, a version of theatre-for-theatre-people, similar to the way Victor Fung’s From the Top at Dance Base is ostensibly about dancers in rehearsal with an irritating choreographer in charge.
However, like From the Top, this Macbeth is about more than its immediate context. The ambition of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the ambition of the actor assuming the role become as much a metaphor for single-minded ambition and the relentless pursuit of personal goals in general.
At Studio Voltaire in South London, there’s currently an exhibition by Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley called ‘Rand/Goop’. In the eerie monochrome installations, the words of Ayn Rand, exponent of ‘objectivism’, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop website are cross-pollinated in a disturbing reminder of how the philosophies of the modern ‘wellness’ industry are bizarrely similar to uber-individualistic dictums of Rand. The ideas underneath Macbeth are closely related. This the me-me-me brand of self-actualisation, aspiration and goal-setting. And it’s something that’s only ever a solo show.
Cho-in Theatre’s Macbeth is on at 6.55pm at C Venues as part of the 2019 Edinburgh fringe, until 26th August. More info and tickets here.